With an area of almost three million square miles, Australia covers nearly the same amount of land as the entire European continent. The vast, expansive country features over 20,000 miles of coastline that give access to some of the best-known and best-loved dive locations on the planet. While the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) needs little introduction, the other locations that make up the best diving in Australia may be a little less well-known. Ningaloo Reef in the northwest and Lord Howe Island off the coast of New South Wales are both delightful diving destinations. Whether you are looking for all-but-guaranteed whale sharks, deep drifts and pleasant coral gardens, or an idyllic island getaway in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia's best dive locations may be half the world away, but the marine life is entirely out of this world...

clown fish in coral

Great Barrier Reef

As the largest barrier reef system in the world, there are few people who have not heard of the Great Barrier Reef. It is composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, stretching out over an area of approximately 130,000 square miles. That's way too much reef for a single holiday, but basing yourself on the luxurious Lizard Island puts you in the perfect location to enjoy some of the best diving on the Great Barrier Reef, including the Cod Hole and the Ribbon Reefs.

As you venture out into the Coral Sea, further north than bustling Cairns and Port Douglas, you can expect pristine corals, gin-clear water and a host of epic marine life encounters in relative tranquillity. Huge groupers on steroids, cryptic wobbegongs blending into the reef, friendly Maori wrasse (a.k.a. Napoleon wrasse or humphead wrasse) puppy-dogging over to divers, and a liberal sprinkling of reef sharks ensure Lizard Island's place at the table when discussing the best diving in Australia.

Ningaloo Reef humpback whale

Ningaloo Reef

While it's less spoken of than its noisier, east-coast neighbour, the less-visited Ningaloo Reef in Australia's north-western corner inspires some to claim that the west is the best. Diving in Australia sits on many divers' bucket lists, as does swimming alongside the world's biggest fish, and a trip to the Ningaloo Marine Park between the months of March and July allows you to tick them both off in one fell swoop.

As the whale shark procession nears its end, from August through to November, humpback whales migrate through the area, waving their huge, iconic tails to tourist boats as they pass. A short excursion north from the main reef area to Exmouth will allow muck divers the chance to dive one of Australia's best macro photography sites, the Exmouth Navy Pier. The 300-metre-long pier is often mentioned among the best shore dives in the world and provides shelter for a wide variety of cool critters, including rainbow-hued nudibranchs, flatworms, scorpionfish, frogfish and various species of shrimp.

Lord Howe Island

Lord Howe Island

If you set sail from Port Macquarie, the halfway point between Sydney and Brisbane, heading due east, then you're on your way to Lord Howe Island. Or you could just hop on a two-hour flight from Sydney. Either way, you'll be staying in the lap of luxury on a UNESCO World Heritage Site island, just yards from some of the best diving in Australia, and in the company of a select few (only 400 visitors are allowed at any time on Lord Howe Island).

The island is cloaked in virgin forest, and the reefs are incredibly diverse, with over 90 species of coral and 500 species of fish calling them home. The eponymously named Lord Howe Island butterflyfish is the reef's local star, while the island's iconic dive site, Ball's Pyramid, is as visually striking above the surface as it is below. The currents can be challenging at Ball's Pyramid, but the sharks and rays don't seem to mind too much. It is also pretty much the only place where the rare Ballina angelfish has been photographed...